An Easter Story

ImageI met Christ today in the person of a seven-year-old girl named Eloise. She came up to me while I was sitting on a rock along the lakeside. I was silently praying, asking for healing, using words from a favorite poem by Nancy Wood: “Earth cure me. Earth receive my woe. Rock strengthen me. Rock receive my weakness.” 

Up comes Eloise saying “hello.”

Then she said to me, “I’m going to go throw this rock in the water.” She was wearing a blue and white checkered skirt, one red sock and one blue one, florescent yellow shoes, a blue t-shirt with personal messages written on it, and a pink and green sparkling hat over bright red hair, still drying from a jump in the lake. 

“Okay” I said. She threw the rock, and then watched it. The rock disappears, and what is left is ever-widening circles. When the ripples stopped she said, “I like to watch the ripples and see how far they go and how they disappear.” 

I find myself smiling. The kind of smile you can’t even stop. 

Then Christ tells me, “The earth is really wonderful, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is” I tell Eloise, as tears catch in my eyes. 

She throws another rock, watches it. “I like to watch the light in the circles on the water” she says. And then, “Do you want to throw one?” She hands me a rock. So I throw a rock with Christ, and we watch it sink out of sight, and watch the circles widen and then disappear again. I think about a rock receiving my pain. I think about that rock disappearing to sink to the bottom of the lake. I think about how that pain causes ripples that touch other people, other parts of life, widening. But then it dissipates, and the water returns returns to the surface it was. 

Our lives aren’t quite like that. We may never recover like water. But I pray: Let me be like water. Returning, smoothing to calm. Let me return easily to a good-soul state–a sacred space. “The world is really amazing isn’t it?” Christ interrupts again. And I try not to show my emotion. “I mean,” she continues, “it’s so limitless. I bet there are places on this earth where no one has ever been.”

“Yes, I bet that’s true.” I say, thinking I had those same thoughts when I was her age, praying for her and what may come in her life. 

“I have to go now” she says to me. “But I’m going to throw one more rock. You can have the rest.” She pulls rocks out of her skirt pocket. We watch her last rock go into the water, and when the ripples go away, her family, who have been watching from about twenty feet away, call to her and say “Okay, Eloise, it’s time to move on.” I fantasize for a moment that maybe they know they are disciples, walking around with Christ, who is making resurrection appearances at the lakeside. But probably not. Resurrection seems often to be a little hidden. 

“It was nice to meet you, Eloise” I tell Christ. And I think in my head of all the places Christ is present. In this girl, in this rock, in this world, and in me. In the name of the God who is still creating, redeeming, and sustaining, I am a child of God. 

1993 and Everything After

My friend just sent me this article talking about the time we all go through  when we reminisce about the music of our time and how important it was. This article was talking about Nirvana’s “In Utero” and The Counting Crows, “August and Everything After.” It talked about how a lot of people this week will be talking about Nirvana, and not very many people will be writing nostalgic articles about the first album of the Counting Crows.

Part of that is because Adam Duritz is still alive, making music. But a bigger part, this author says, is related to how Nirvana’s music was “tangentially sad” whereas Counting Crows’ music was “realistically sad.” “In Utero represents who we’d like to be; August and Everything After is who we want to hide. It’s not musical history we’re revisiting. It’s our own.” This author points out that it is perfectly acceptable to make fun of the Counting Crows, but no one ever makes fun of Nirvana.

And the thing is, no one ever did. Just reading the article I was transposed back to this fraternity house I used to hang out in in college. Saturday mornings, in an attempt to get my best friend out of bed so we could try to do something cool, I’d make my rounds–to Taco Bell for burritos and Mountain Dew, and Taco Johns for Ole’s n Cheese. The Ole’s were necessary, but Taco Johns had Pepsi products, which was a bummer dude.

Fully loaded with gigantic Mountain Dews, I head up the stairs to the upper apartment in the Phi Sig house and wave the ole’s near Steve’s face, up in the loft of the bed.
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Steve literally looked like Kurt Cobain. And he was also an illustrator, so after Kurt Cobain died, he drew pictures of him, which might as well have been pictures of himself. Long stringy blond hair, flannel shirts, and all. Steve got around town on his skateboard or mountain bike. If I could really include myself in a club with him I would say we didn’t get a lot cooler than that.

But the reality is I was never that cool–I was, in fact, sometimes called “pseudo betty.” A “betty” was a term used to describe female skaters in our little part of the world. I guess for others it refers to how hot a female is. Well I was not a skater. But since I occasionally got on my friends’ boards, I was apparently posing as a betty.

On one of those mornings, MTV plays on the television beneath the loft. Or maybe it was VH1 I am sure of three things that time–that Nirvana was on, and I was ambivalent about that, that NIN was on, and I hated that because it was loud and violent and sexual, (and those last two things don’t go well together for me). Steve loved NIN. And that was where I first saw the Counting Crows and heard the song “Mr. Jones.” I was mesmerized. I bought the CD. Steve labeled it adult contempo music.

But when I lived in a town where we drank coffee in pancake houses until they closed, climbed under railroad bridges in the middle of the night, went swinging at 4 am…I found myself in the lines “Round here, we always stay up late…”

When I moved across the country, Adam’s wailing of the line “3,400 miles away, what would you change if you could. I need a phone call. I need a rain coat. I need a train ride…” hit right in the homesick place.

When I lived in Seattle, I thought all the time about how you might try to “move in the air, between the rain, through myself and back again” as I lived through that first rainy Winter.

When I drove the big triangle from Seattle to Boulder to Fargo and back, there was the perfect opportunity to listen to a song about Omaha, somewhere in middle America…

And so it goes. So I admit I’m drawn to uncomfortably honest sad songs, and they do map my life. And I’m OK with not being very cool. It is still a great album. Thus ends my nostalgic writing about 1993.

I Baptize People on Saturdays. What.

I also baptize people on Sundays or Tuesdays or any other day. I baptize people in “worship” on a Sunday morning, and outside of the context of the normal worship service. I don’t just do this in “extra ordinary circumstances” and I would even do it during the church season of Lent.

I know that in seminary the professor who teaches this kind of thing would pre-arrange to have a grave that would keep him rolling over throughout eternity over this. I know some of you pastor-types will have issues too. I know because I just baptized a one year old who had not been baptized yet because another pastor apparently said no. I didn’t ask a lot of questions about why they couldn’t do it in a Sunday morning service. The surface answer was that they had trouble finding a time to get everyone together. I accepted that.

I understand that Lutherans believe the community has a role in baptism, making promises to support these people being baptized throughout their life’s journey. I also tell people this when they ask me about having a baptism outside of the context of the church. But if they begin to look defeated and tired, I tell them this is what is preferred but there is space to talk about doing something differently.

I work in a church for half of my job, but in the other half I work outside of traditional church with a lot of people in their 20’s and 30’s who don’t go to church. The ones who don’t go to church usually have some story in their past that is about some kind of rejection from the church, and I am trying to prevent that from happening.

I also do it because of this: I believe people who read the Bible and understand it as holy were given the task of going out and baptizing. The author who wrote that Jesus said that did not say “in worship on Sunday mornings with a whole faith community gathered” and he did not say “but not in the season of Lent” (the season of Lent didn’t exist yet). The way I understand baptism, it is one way we know of God’s Grace in our lives. It is about what God does and not about what we do (and I believe that means both those being baptized, and me, and the rest of the community gathered). I don’t believe that others being present who are not family or friends hinders the Holy Spirit in any way.

Let me tell you about my Godchild, Sunday. She was baptized on a Sunday, but it was after all the “faithful people” gathered had gone home. Just the family gathered around the font. None of us went to church that morning. The pastor didn’t even say all the words that are normally in the service (no worries; I said the words later in the lake, even though I wasn’t a pastor. I marked her with the sign of the cross and told her I welcomed her into God’s family, received her a fellow member of the body of Christ. I told her she was a child of the same heavenly creator and a worker with us in the kingdom of God. I said it for all of you who consider yourselves to be part of the body of Christ who could not be present at that lake that day.)

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Sunday on her Baptism Day

This baptism happened outside of the context of Sunday morning worship because Sunday’s Mom and Dad didn’t go to church, and felt weird going back.

Sunday’s mom was a college friend of mine, and we had worked at a Bible camp together. Later, she got pregnant and eventually married this guy in a band, who smoked a lot of weed and had a lot of disdain for most of Christianity because of the particular brand of fundamentalism he had been surrounded  by in high school. But Sunday’s mom still wanted her kids to be baptized, so this was the compromise.

Some of you might be thinking about those promises parents make during the baptism: to raise your child among God’s faithful people, to place in their hands the Holy Scripture, to bring them to God’s table, etc. You might be thinking that people like this make a sham out of baptism, because clearly they have no intention of living up to these promises, so it renders baptism totally meaningless.

Sunday was baptized 14 years ago this past month. In October she will affirm her own baptism in a confirmation service that will likely be led by her mother–Pastor Chris Manisto. Chris was ordained in July of 2008, after a wandering path that reminds me that Tolkien was right–not all who wander are lost. Sunday and her dad (now sober for more than ten years) regularly sing together in church, and her older sister spent her summer first doing a Theology and Science camp, and then a border experience with a group of young leaders in the church.

I think they are all living into their baptismal promises. More than that it seems clear that God showed up on that day, even though it wasn’t during Sunday worship. More than that, I have no doubt the Holy Spirit is able to work in all kinds of circumstances.

If you are a Lutheran, and you want a good “Lutheran” reason for baptizing whenever, I’ll say this: Luther responded to some issue in the church by saying something like, “It may be good theology, but it’s bad pastoral care. And if it is bad pastoral care, it is bad theology.”

But mostly I’ll end by saying this: I promise to do the best I can to not let the church get in the way of the Holy Spirit. In the name of God who is still creating, sustaining and redeeming, Amen.

Is your worship really the only one God works through?

Recently I saw this post on facebook that was bemoaning/making fun of a whole host of what one might call “worship styles” that (according to this post) represent a consumerist style of approaching church. There was something for everyone–Gregorian chant to hip-hop worship.

I don’t know what to do with this kind of post. For those of you who might read this who are churchy-types, I understand that the liturgy works in some kind of way that we cannot understand, explain or control. But I have three issues with people bemoaning alternate styles of worship:

  1. It makes God too small.
  2. It privileges some style of worship above others, and marginalizes people in the process.
  3. It is not good news.

It makes God too small:

I believe the Holy Spirit also shows up in places we cannot explain, understand or control. He/She/It may show up outside of the liturgy that is somehow mandated in some place that means one way is the right way, and these other ways represent “consumerism.”

If it is true that the Holy Spirit might show up outside of liturgy as it has always been done,  it seems as if we have some tools available to us to experiment with how we, out of our own context and time, might offer praise, speak, and hear good news spoken into this time and place. I assume that God speaks good news into our lives using the stuff of creation, in each time and place. That might mean some different kinds of liturgy, with different genres of music, instrumentation and words. I trust God is present in these new things.

It privileges some styles of worship above others, and marginalizes people: 

We could mandate that all worship looks the same. I don’t think Martin Luther ever did that, but we can. I remember learning that he thought word and sacrament were essential, and that the rest was bonus, (I know the fancy word, I’m just not using it here). I believe Luther said if it seemed good for proclaiming gospel in that location, then it was good for worship.

One of the reasons I am uncomfortable with the conversation is because of how it seems to belittle or make fun of those who lead worship or experience worship in ways other than (whatever it is that you think is the established right way). And that “right way” is likely grounded in something European and old. The comments on the picture seem to suggest that some people believe there is one way to worship in spirit and in truth, and  all these other ways just represent disunity in the body of Christ, and making God into our own image. What this does is marginalize people who don’t experience or lead worship the way it is assumed it has always been done. One could probably make an argument that if it was good enough for 500 years’ worth of people, it should be good enough for people today. You can say that, but the church is shrinking quickly so you may not be saying it to many people. More to the point, all worship came out of a culture, whether ancient Judaism or Europe 500 years ago. All worship comes from culture.

It is not Good News: 

The Church should not be about marginalizing anyone, because that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church is about proclaiming the gospel into people’s lives–that the grace of God is for you–whoever you are, in whatever way you can hear it, using the tools, instruments, gifts and talents of the community that is doing the hearing and proclaiming. I believe God can work with all of that. Do you?

Come, Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

To whom shall we go?

I go to church almost every week. I go even though I don’t always know why we are all there and I am often disappointed with what I experience–or don’t experience–in church.

Today as I sat in church, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead, MN (that’s my home church, though I end up in a lot of different churches) I worried I would experience that again. I sat wondering what it was I was expecting, and often don’t find. I think what I often miss is the glimpse of something luminous or holy or sacred–something outside of every day life that touches on something larger. Something that both drives me deep within and also lifts my attention to the world I am called to care for.

Today, I went hoping to hear good news proclaimed in a time of national tragedy. I also went as study–since I am also a pastor, sociologically and ecclesiologically, I wanted to see how this church would handle 20 kids dead (and 8 adults) across the country in Newtown, Connecticut in the middle of the Holidays.

I just prayed they wouldn’t ignore it, and drone on with the words we always say. And then this happened: We started the words of confession and forgiveness, and I heard the voices of the table full of children next to me, saying the words in that confession: “We are truly sorry” as I sat, thankful for their voices, thankful we were all in this room together in a posture of prayer, thankful they knew the words by memory because someday they might need them. As the words of forgiveness were said, I looked up and saw the line of water in the stained glass window behind the altar, that runs like a lifeline from a depiction of baptism to the cross.

Then we stood up to greet the Gospel, and we were all singing the oh-so-familiar words ”Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Those words take on new meaning when you are trying to figure out how to make sense of things like death that comes too early.

Sermon time–I saw all the chatter from my pastor-friends, trying to figure out how to address this tragedy, or if they should. I watched to see what would happen here. Pastor Matt McWaters first sat with the children and acknowledged that it was a dark time, and had been a hard week for many people. Then he asked them to help by doing three things: hugging their parents a little tighter, laughing and playing a little wilder, and telling their parents “I love you.”

I could see these children, paying attention to the gravity of the situation. They promised to hug, and laugh and love like they knew it was important.

Then Pastor Matt got behind the pulpit and, visibly shaken, preached his way into the good news of Christ until tears came down his face as he named the stupid things people might say at times like this, like that “God must have needed another angel” or “She’s home now” and just nailed those ridiculous unhelpful sentiments right to the cross and said it is not true–that God does not cause evil to happen, and reminding us that Christ always came that we might have life, and that always wins, and always comes in the dark places.

Amen.

During communion I heard the words of the song around me, talking about healing, as I made room for the man with his walker. I don’t know what healing looks like for this man, but it is moving nonetheless. I was reminded that these are the hurts we can see–how much more is inside each of us as we reach out our hands and hear the words spoken to us: This is the body of Christ, and it is given for you. After communion we hear words of blessing and hope–that at this meal we share we might be strengthened and kept in God.

Last week someone from The Project F-M book club said, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” She was talking about how she started going to church with her grandmother, and wasn’t sure why she went either, but now it has become important to her.

And then there are the words of my friend, Pastor Matthew Bolz-Weber who says, “The liturgy* works. You can’t say when or how, and you can’t force it, but it does work.”

If I didn’t go every week, and say those same words every week I might miss it. On this day, those words we repeat over and over and over had a different meaning.

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia.

*liturgy is a churchy word that can variously be defined. One way to define it is that it is the prescribed ‘form’ for public worship, talking about the order of things, and what words are said when, and what is included, especially in the context of a worship service with Holy Communion.

Still praying

A man once told me that the last time he entered a church was forty years ago. He was a teenager, but folks in his church thought he had an “unnatural attraction” to his best friend. They held an intervention for him. When the intervention “didn’t work” he was kicked out of the church, and didn’t return for 40 years.

One day, he knelt in tears at a railing near the altar while we prayed. The altar and railing looked similar to the church where they had prayed over him as a teenager. Forty years later when he had found his way back, we prayed for the walls he had built up to fall. We prayed for him to have the grace to forgive the people who had harmed him. We prayed for peace for him as he found his way back to church, even though it is sometimes hard to be there, with triggers that remind him of that earlier time, and fears that it will happen again.

I am still praying. I just heard a news story about a teenager named Lennon in Barnesville, MN, who was supposed to be confirmed last month at his Catholic church. He was allegedly not confirmed after posting on his facebook wall that he was against the marriage amendment that failed to pass in Minnesota on election day. The vote would have changed the state’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Lennon voiced his opposition to that measure. You can read more about that here.

So I am still praying.

I have an uncle who is gay. I don’t see him much, but he was at my grandmother’s funeral, and told me he had not been inside a church in at least a couple of decades. He asked me, “What is the point of these buildings? What use do they serve?”

The Barna group did a study that talked about the most common reasons that young people don’t go to church. The most common responses had to do with the church being irrelevant to their lives, anti-homosexual, antagonistic towards science, boring, and judgmental. The research is documented in the book, You Lost Me by David Kinnaman

So I am still praying.  First I  prayed for was that the voices of love and grace and mercy would be louder than the voices of intolerance and judgement. But that is not enough. If I am going to pray, I might as well ask for it all. Now my prayer is this: That we might find a way, as Church to be God’s body–to embody the love and grace of God above all else, and let go of fear, intolerance, and judgement.

I want to be able to tell Lennon there is a place for him in this Church, even with his opinions. I want to be able to tell my uncle about the reasons for Church, and not be afraid that his worst fears will be confirmed if he walks back in. I want to know that the man who left forty years ago won’t experience the same pain today. I want to know that this will never happen to another person again. I want young adults to come to church and experience it as a place that recognizes and welcomes their gifts, their questions, their life experiences and their whole selves, including a thinking mind.

We need this not just because I want a church that feels safe for Lennon, my uncle, and others to be themselves, but because the body of Christ needs them too. Those of us who are “in” the church miss out on all the gifts that those “outside” the church have to offer. And as long as there are groups that are “inside” the Church and “outside” the Church, we’re a long way away from God’s vision for this world.

At least as far as I can see.

So I’m still praying.

So…It’s not a Church?

“So, it’s not a church?”

Not exactly.

“But you got a call?”

Yes.

“What is it then?”

It’s an emerging faith community for people in their 20’s and 30’s, generally speaking.

“A….community…so….where does it meet?

Um, bars, coffee shops, a place called The Spirit Room

“So you don’t have an actual place.”

Well, wherever you go, there you are. That’s some kind of place.

“And this is the kind of work you want to do?”

YES!!!!!

These are the kinds of conversations I’ve been having with people—especially people in the church I am finishing up at—about my future work. I’ve just accepted a call to The Project F-M (another question I get: What is ‘FM’? Answer: Fargo-Moorhead) and it seems to be kind of confusing to people. People really wish I would be in a church building apparently. (See my post on “Not a Building” for MY thoughts on that.)

But it turns out there are a whole bunch of people in the world who don’t go into buildings called “churches” and don’t attend events called “worship.” Maybe they did once upon a time, but a really large number of young adults just don’t. (See more about this in my post on Somebody That I Used to Know). There are as many reasons for this as there are people. Some people wandered away from church because it didn’t seem relevant to the rest of their lives. There is too much of a cultural commute to take for them to walk in on a regular basis. Some people don’t believe the things they were taught in the churches they grew up in. Whatever the reasons, there are large groups of people who don’t resonate with ‘church.’

So it makes sense to create other kinds of space—sacred space, maybe—for people who don’t find meaning in conventional churches or worship. Even if that space isn’t one we own, or call “ours.” I am really excited about helping to create that kind of a space and be a part of a community that wants to engage in conversations about God and theology and things that hold deeper meaning to them. Even if we don’t use the word ‘church.’

And hey–for those of you who are in conventional churches, or leading conventional churches–please keep doing what you’re doing. It is a faith community for those who call that place a church home. I know that if you started changing drastically to respond to the needs of the people who are not currently in your churches, then all those people who go to church now would be exiles.

Just find ways to support those others who are currently in exile.

And, you can read more about The Project F-M here. (You can even donate there!)